Stressed. I make websites for a living — customized WordPress sites — and I really love what I do. I really do…most days. But when you work on the web, you have to deal with hosting companies and their servers, and web security, and email, and spam, and computer issues, and a whole bunch of things you don’t really enjoy so much.
When you’re on a shared server, you get to share one server with a bunch of people you don’t know from Adam, and their actions can take your site down. Again, and again, and again. It’s usually nothing malicious, but it’s really annoying. And stressful. And time consuming as you try to straighten things out. There’s also the part about explaining to the client why their site is down.
You soon learn that there are no perfect hosting companies, you can’t stop the bad guys from trying to attack your site, and running a business entails working with clients whose ideas might be different than yours. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But that’s a whole ’nother post.
The point is, that after several months of what seemed like non-stop tech stuff (not to mention dealing with my new health insurance company), I was feeling sucked dry. Exhausted. Angry. Burnt out. Stressed. Sick. Hostile. Honestly, I was feeling a bit profane. I wanted to run away from work.
I realized I needed to do something completely different than what I’d been doing, just for my sanity. I still need to work (because I like to eat, and mostly, I love what I do), but I needed to play. I’m a creative, and I hadn’t been doing much creative work.
Breaking Out the Paintbrush
Long before I ever started working on a computer, going all the way back to when I was a child, I’ve been an artist. Drawing, painting, creating. Then I picked up embroidery, then quilting and a variety of crafts. I come from an extremely artsy-fartsy family, so it was just natural. We always had art supplies available. Mom didn’t freak at the mess. Thanks, Mom!
As I contemplated doing something about all this tech stuff that was likely going to get me put in prison (orange is not my color), I remembered that I’m an artist, and I hadn’t been taking care of myself, because “stressed” is not a good color on me, either.
So I’ve started painting again. I bought watercolor paper to replenish my stash. I got a portable easel for my classes. I’m thinking about entering some juried art shows again. Maybe I’ll finish my art degree. I dunno. I stop work at 5 or 6 and take the weekends and holidays off, too, and then go play. There’s a spring in my step, I’m feeling happier, and the phrase “throat-punch” is disappearing from my vocabulary.
Breaking Out the Green Thumb
Ever since I persuaded my parents to let me dig up the side yard of my childhood home, I’ve been gardening. Green stuff. Flowers. Veggies. Fruits. My happy place. My place to take a deep cleansing breath.
Granted, I live in the Inland Empire area of Southern California, where summer temps reach in the 110s. Every summer, despite my best efforts, I watch the sun nuke my plants, but before that happens, I’ve been picking fruit and veggies and flowers.
Many fruits don’t even make it inside my home. Grazing through the garden. I often peek through my blinds so I can just look at my garden and I’m immediately less stressed.
Taking Care of Yourself
In “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature,” in the American Journal of Public Health, Drs. Stuckey and Nobel discussed “the relationship between engagement with the creative arts and health outcomes, specifically the health effects of music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing.”
In a nutshell, creative expression was good for one’s overall health, and decreases mood disturbances, stress, and anxiety. It helps you separate from the negative things in your life to think more clearly. “Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing. The more we understand the relationship between creative expression and healing, the more we will discover the healing power of the arts.”
As for gardening, in her article in Psychology Today, Linda Wasmar Andrews, in “Nine Ways to Relieve Stress by Gardening,” says, “Research has shown that spending time in nature can help restore your attention, relax your body, and revive your mood.”
“But I’m Not Creative! I Have a Black Thumb! I Don’t Have Any Hobbies!”
No one says you have to be able to sing or dance or paint pictures or grow an English garden. Listen to music. Move your body. Start a journal. Take pictures with your mobile phone. Take a fun class in crocheting or cooking or something that would make you happy. Go to a poetry reading. Join a book club. Listen to an audiobook. Visit some place you’ve never been to before. Visit an art gallery or museum. Go to the ballet or a play.
Let go of the need to be perfect. Give yourself the kind of grace you’d give to someone else in need. Maybe something will even inspire you. Think of it as a mini vacation — every day, or at least every weekend. And hey, if you need to, get some therapy. There’s no shame in venting to a professional. It’s easy to lose perspective when you are in the thick of it.
Taking care of yourself means the whole thing — the mind, the body, the soul. You will be a better employee, business owner, mother, father…PERSON because of it.